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2 Feb, 2022 04:49

Plan to tax unvaccinated dropped to avoid ‘angry’ backlash

Quebec’s premier said the controversial plan would only further divide Canadians
Plan to tax unvaccinated dropped to avoid ‘angry’ backlash

Canada’s Quebec province has reversed course on a special health tax proposed for residents who decline to take a Covid-19 vaccine, with the regional government saying the idea would only alienate people.

“I have to make sure that I protect the health of Quebecers, but I have also to protect the peace in our society,” Quebec premier Francois Legault told reporters on Tuesday. “In the last week or so there's [been] an increase in the reaction of people.” 

While the province’s health minister said Quebec saw an uptick in vaccinations after the tax plan was unveiled in mid-January, in announcing the about-face, the premier said, “I understand that this divides Quebecers and right now we need to build bridges.”

They are angry more than ever. I don't like to see Quebecers divided like we're seeing.

The proposed “health contribution” would have fined unimmunized residents for between $50 and $100, with Legault initially saying the policy aimed to “tell people who choose not to get vaccinated that there will be a price to pay” and make up for “sacrifices” endured by the rest of the population.

To date, around 84% of those eligible in Quebec are considered fully vaccinated, just above the national average.

The province of Ontario, Canada’s most populous, previously opted against a similar tax, arguing the policy was unjustifiably “punitive.” Premier Doug Ford said his administration would “take a different approach,” though he implored residents to receive the shot. 

Quebec’s decision to scrap the fine comes amid a major vaccine row at the Canadian border, where truck drivers have gathered to protest vaccination mandates in both Canada and the US in recent days. One stretch of borderland in Coutts, Alberta reportedly saw a blockade of around 100 trucks, creating a miles-long backup on Montana’s Interstate 15. The Alberta government has denounced the protest as a “significant inconvenience” that “must end immediately,” while police declared the gathering unlawful and vowed to take action to stop it earlier on Tuesday. 

Canada’s capital, Ottawa has also been hit by sizable protests, with thousands joining the ‘Freedom Convoy’ to denounce the mandates over the weekend, reportedly forcing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into hiding over safety concerns.